Wild Profile: Meet the Baltimore oriole

Published: May 18, 2021 · Updated: May 19, 2021

A male Baltimore oriole perched on a branch By Brian A Wolf/Shutterstock

Long before baseball, this Baltimore oriole was entertaining fans with its flashy colours and rich song. Male orioles use their stunning, contrasting black-and-orange plumage to their advantage when luring mates. They’ll rapidly bow up and down in front of a female, creating a strobe-like effect with their black heads and orange chests. Black! Orange! Black! Orange!

If you want to spot a Baltimore oriole, look up: these birds tend to perch at the very tops of trees. Or, look for a female building a nest. Orioles are excellent nest builders. They weave strands of stringy stems or fibres around and between twigs, usually in the crown of tall hardwood trees. Next, they add strips of bark, dried grass, hair, and even wool or string, to create a purse-like sack that hangs from the tree. A nest is strong and sturdy enough to stay put for years! Because it’s suspended from such thin branches, it’s protected from predators such as raccoons—they’re too heavy to attempt climbing too close to it.

Male orioles are noisy in May, when courting, but they hush up once they’ve found a mate—they don’t want to give away a nest’s location. Young, unhitched males continue to sing into June and July, still holding out hope that they’ll find a lady friend. Males don’t get their black-and-orange good looks until their second year, though. It’s hard to attract female attention dressed in drab, olive green. Sigh.

Baltimore orioles love fruit. You can attract them to your yard by hanging cut, ripe oranges from tree branches. Planting nectar-bearing flowers, or fruiting trees, such as crab apple, will also draw them in. Orioles are especially fond of dark-coloured fruits: they’ll eat purple grapes over green ones, and ignore even ripe yellow cherries in favour of dark red varieties.

Into birding? Check out our list of 10 birds to look for this spring

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